The Maldives are one of the most beautiful collections of islands on Earth; boasting blue lagoons, lush tropical forests, white sandy beaches and colourful coral reefs. The idyllic islands are popular with tourists who come to experience a true island paradise, but this picture-perfect archipelago is likely to be the first and biggest victim of rising sea levels, which government scientists say are rising by almost 1cm per year. That might not sound like a lot, but when the highest natural point of your country is only 2.3 meters above sea level, and much of it a lot lower than that, the threat of submersion is very real.
It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that the Maldives were the first country to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, a set of maximum emissions targets that industrialised countries should meet. However, on a global scale the Maldives’ carbon emissions are negligible, and while countries like the USA continue to delay their commitment to cutting carbon, sea levels continue to rise and time is running out for the islands.
In an effort to buy time, the Maldives’ capital, Male, has been surrounded by a 3m high wall, a project which took 14 years to complete and cost $63m. However, the wall offers protection for just one of Maldives’ 1200 islands (200 of which are inhabited) and even this impressive structure can only hold off Neptune for so long.
The rising waters pose a huge problem, not just for the tourist industry, which includes dozens of luxury hotels in the Maldives but also for the islands’ inhabitants. Some atolls have already begun to plan migrations, as tidal surges present a more regular problem, with homes being flooded every couple of weeks in some areas. On one island, Kanholhudoo, 60 percent of the residents have already volunteered to evacuate over the next 15 years, and presumably those left behind will eventually have to go the same way.
The Maldives government is also trying to combat the effect of climate change by encouraging the forestation of beaches to prevent erosion, and protecting the coral reefs, which in turn provide a barrier from tidal surges. However, these actions merely address the symptoms of rising seas and ultimately do nothing to stop the cause.
The unfortunate truth for the Maldives is that its future lies in the hands of the major, industrialised nations of the world. It is the conduct of the USA, Russia, China, India and Europe that will ultimately seal the Maldives’ fate unless serious, major action is taken to tackle global warming very soon.
It seems that the Maldives are destined to become the next Atlantis – an entire nation swallowed up by the sea; a beautiful paradise – forever lost.
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